Year C Proper 6 Luke 7
Shaping People's Lives through Forgiveness
Who was this Speaker? This lecturer who looked into the future and was able to rightly discern where history was taking us? It was Ronald Reagan. Putting political preferences aside for just a moment I think all of us would have to agree that on at least a few crucial issues Reagan got it right. He looked into the future and steered us correctly. What is it that gives some people the ability to look at a situation and rightly sized it up? It seems to be a kind of gift doesn't it?
This is one of the qualities that separate the great men from the ordinary. In our story this morning (in Luke 7) certain insights are being expressed. A gathering of men at a dinner party has just witnessed a woman, who they all know to be a woman of ill repute, walk into the room with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. She walks up behind Jesus and kneels. She is crying. As she weeps her tears fall onto his feet. She uses her hair as a towel to dry his feet and then she pours the expensive perfume on his feet. This is the scene and it is a sudden departure from the evening's festivities. But it now becomes the focal point of Jesus' teachings.
Now, listen to how the Pharisee sizes up the situation. He has two insights. On the first he is correct and on the second he is incorrect. Here they are: First he is correct about the lady. She was known in the community as a sinner. Her sin is not revealed to us but most of us could come pretty close in guessing it. Whatever it was the Pharisee rightly judged the woman's character. But here is where he failed. His insights and perceptions about Jesus were wrong. He said that if Jesus were a prophet he would know that this woman was a sinner and he would not let her touch him.
The Pharisee was wrong because the character of this woman was not lost on Jesus. And here is the beautiful part of the passage. Jesus knew who she was but he had moved beyond that to forgive the woman her sins. Jesus sizes up the situation and recognizes that grace is needed in this woman's life.
Now let's ask ourselves this question. Whether we are looking at an incredibly destructive institution or the loathsome practice of prostitution, whatever sin we find in the world are we able to look beyond the facts, size up the situation, see down the road and know what kind of grace is needed? We can do this if we can:
- Be honest and call sin sin.
- Use these moments to teach others.
- Remember that redemption always wins in the end.
Like a Waving Flag
Those of us who live in the United States have no experience with royalty or with "kingdoms" ruled by kings or queens. We have no royal family, so we have to invent our royalty.
We had the "King of Rock'n'Roll," Elvis Presley. We had the "King of Pop," Michael Jackson. We had a "King of Soul," James Brown. We have a Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. We have a "King of all Media," Howard Stern. We have a Queen of Clean, Linda Cobb. We even have a King of Greasy Goodness" for the Queen of Clean to clean up: Burger King!
But in countries like the Motherland, Great Britain, there is a real royal family. And the public can always keep track of where their monarch is through an ancient tradition. When the ruling monarch is in residence, the Royal Standard, the flag of the ruling monarchy of the United Kingdom, flies above. When the Queen is at Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace, the Royal standard flutters overhead. When she is NOT in residence, the Royal Standard is replaced by the Union Flag (the "Union Jack").
At her other residences in Scotland the Royal Standard flies above Holyrood Palace or Balmoral Castle when she is present. When she is absent from the grounds, the ancient Royal Standard of Scotland is hoisted. Long before there was reliable news sources, just one glance overhead would let the citizens of the kingdom know if their monarch was present, or where "the king was in the kingdom."
Maybe it is our lack of any historical connection to a "royal residence" that makes us so clueless about the concept of the kingdom of God when Jesus talks about it. We are not very educated in being a "kingdom" or even what "kingdom come" means.
Like Simon the Pharisee in today's gospel text, we think in political terms that involve reciprocity based on what we can provide for others because of what they may provide for us. "Tit for tat." I owe you, you owe me. We're "even" as long as we're evenly indebted to each other. As long as everything "balances out," we feel things are fair and just.
But that is not how a "kingdom" works...